Two thousand years of Chester’s rich and colourful history have been earmarked to create one of Europe’s finest heritage trails.

Chester’s famous City Walls, the only complete circuit in the UK, have recently been given an asset value £0.5 billion… but could well be worth much more to the city in the future.

Established and built by the Romans, they have been repaired, extended and adapted by successive generations ever since, the massive symbol of defence eventually became a fashionable walkway for promenading Georgians.

Now the two-mile-plus sandstone circuit is a mecca to over 2.7m visitors each year; supports the equivalent of over 300 fulltime jobs and makes a net economic contribution to the Chester economy calculated at over £20m per annum.

And when the PORTICO co-operative European Project completes its imaginative restoration, improvement and interpretation works of the Walls and Towers, their amazing stories are expected to attract a much wider audience.

“Certainly, we expect the Walls to become one of the leading heritage trails in Europe and play a leading role in the realisation of our aim that Chester will be a must see international destination by 2015”, said Councillor Herbert Manley, Executive Member for Prosperity.

The Walls have benefited from over £3m worth of specialist repair and maintenance work, by Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Bridges and Structures and Historic Environment Teams since its inception in April 2009.

For many years the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, which protects Britain’s archaeological heritage, has required owners and local authorities to obtain statutory Scheduled Monument Consent, before work can begin.

But now the Section 17 Management Agreement between the Council and English Heritage will provide a framework allowing the Council, owner of the Walls, to carry our routine preservation work without this permission.

Dr Jennie Stopford, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside, said: “Cheshire West and Chester Council has done a great job working with us over the last three years to bring the City Walls and towers into good condition.

“We have been impressed with the standard of the work done and the care that is now being taken of this top class heritage asset.  English Heritage is delighted to sign up to a formal Management Agreement with Cheshire West and Chester Council that will enable the City’s on-going monitoring and maintenance regime.”

Councillor Herbert Manley, Executive Member for Prosperity, said: “English Heritage quite rightly sets the very highest standards and this agreement is a statement of faith in our ability to help preserve one of the country’s most important ancient monuments.

“Recently, in response to a Government request we anticipated the asset, or rebuild value, of the walls at half a billion pounds. Their overall worth to Chester, and indeed the borough, will be far greater than that when our plans for one of the best European Heritage trails are realised.”

The Council’s commitment is illustrated by its decision to devote £500,000 a year to spend on the cyclical maintenance and repairs needed to enable the structure to stand the test of time.

Shadow Executive Member for Prosperity, Councillor Carolyn Graham, said: “Chester’s City Walls are internationally famous and an integral part of our heritage offer. Their preservation is vital for future generations and the economic benefit of the city.”

As part of the interpretation works a new series of panels, especially designed to tell the various and colourful stories of the Walls and Towers, are being installed at strategic points chosen by the Council’s Historic Environment Team and English Heritage.

You can now learn about the Royalist Captain Morgan and his Civil War exploits; Queen Aethelflaed’s extension of the Roman walls to build a fortified city and how legend tells that the ill-fated King Charles I watched his troops defeated at Rowton Moor.

The panels have been produced in lava stone, which as a natural material complements the Walls. It has a beautiful natural finish, and it is the most durable panel material available with a potential life span of decades.

They have been designed to capture the imaginations of a wide range of audiences, but with a particular focus on visitors with a general interest in heritage, local residents, walled town special interest visitors, and families with children in the seven to 11 age range.

The nine panels can be found at East Gate, King Charles Tower, North Gate, Newgate Bridge, Pemberton’s Parlour, Water Tower, Water Gate, Chester Castle and Bridge Gate.